Justice Department to investigate environmental racism in Houston

WASHINGTON — The Justice Department opened a sweeping investigation Friday into the city of Houston’s failure to address environmental r...


WASHINGTON — The Justice Department opened a sweeping investigation Friday into the city of Houston’s failure to address environmental racism, including the rampant dumping of trash — and even bodies — in predominantly black and black neighborhoods. Latino, officials said.

The investigation, sparked by hundreds of resident complaints filed by a local legal aid group, will likely be one of the most far-reaching environmental justice reviews undertaken by the department in recent years.

The investigation will be conducted by the Civil Rights Division in coordination with the ministry’s new environmental justice office. It will examine whether officials in Houston, the nation’s fourth-largest city, have systematically discriminated against residents by allowing 11 of 13 incinerators and landfills to be built in the city’s northeast section over the past few decades.

The announcement is part of the Biden administration’s broader efforts to address racial disparities that have relegated people of color to areas where they face a much higher risk of exposure to carcinogens and harmful substances. other harmful pollutants, to flooding and an array of environmental scourges that reduce lifespan, quality of life and property values.

Many of the problems described Friday by Kristen Clarke, the assistant attorney general who leads the civil rights division, stem from a decades-long history of injustice rooted in racism and malicious neglect, historically at the hands of white local officials.

But some issues are more recent: The Justice Department plans to pay close attention to reports that residents who call Houston’s 311 system to complain about dumping and other environmental violations have been routinely ignored. , Ms. Clarke said in a call with reporters.

Illegal dumpsites in the Houston Lowlands “not only attract rodents, mosquitoes and other vermin that pose health risks, but they can also contaminate surface water and impact drainage, making areas more susceptible to flooding,” Ms Clarke said.

Mayor Sylvester Turner, a Democrat, criticized the investigation, saying his administration had increased fines for illegal dumping and taken steps to improve conditions in the city’s black and Latino neighborhoods.

“The City of Houston was stunned and disappointed to learn of the illegal third-party dumping investigation launched by the U.S. Department of Justice,” Turner said in a statement. “Despite statements by the DOJ, my office received no notice. This investigation is absurd, baseless and baseless.

The mayor, who is black, added that he had “prioritized the needs of communities of color that are historically underfunded and underserved.”

The Justice Department investigation was prompted by a complaint from Lone Star Legal Aid, which tracked complaints from residents in the northeast section of Houston. The area has become a dumping ground for “home furnishings, mattresses, tires, medical waste, trash, corpses and vandalized ATMs”, Ms Clarke said.

Amy Catherine Dinn, chief counsel for the environmental justice division of the legal aid group, said: ‘It’s all part of the city’s legacy of environmental racism, but that problem has gotten worse as the city has grown – and these neighborhoods have been deprived of the resources that wealthier white neighborhoods receive.

Ms Dinn said local residents had carefully documented hundreds of incidents of illegal dumping on residential streets around a local dump. They logged their complaints through the city’s 311 system, only to wait months for help when similar issues were resolved much faster in more affluent neighborhoods, she said.

“It’s not a one-time problem,” she added. “The city basically allowed this community to be used as a dump.”

The environmental disparities described by the Justice Department on Friday are woven into the city’s urban fabric, a patchwork of commercial and residential buildings. Houston has some of the least restrictive zoning laws in the country; as a result, many of the city’s petroleum processing facilities, petrochemical plants, landfills, and transportation lands were placed next to low-income or working-class residential neighborhoods.

A 2016 study by the Union of Concerned Scientists and Texas Environmental Justice Advocacy Services found that people living in the Harrisburg/Manchester neighborhood of Houston, a predominantly Latino area bordered by industrial facilities, had significantly higher rates of cancer and asthma higher than residents of other, whiter parts of the city. removed from the gravel and garbage industry.

In May, Attorney General Merrick B. Garland announced a series of policies intended to elevate the department’s environmental justice efforts from symbolic to substantive — including the creation of an office within the department to address “damage from environmental crime, pollution, and climate change.”

Even before that, the department had begun to explore criminal and civil cases under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, beginning with an investigation into the sewerage and flood management system of Lowndes County, Alabama, one of the poorest and most degraded regions of the country.

In most of these investigations, including the Houston investigation, the department aims to negotiate settlements with localities to resolve issues uncovered, Ms. Clarke said.

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Newsrust - US Top News: Justice Department to investigate environmental racism in Houston
Justice Department to investigate environmental racism in Houston
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